After almost three hours of heated public protest, the Riverhead Town Board voted unanimously -- Councilwoman Jodi Giglio was absent -- in favor of two controversial special use permits that would allow for bistros and professional offices at a proposed development in Jamesport.
"You wasted a golden opportunity," said outraged resident Georgette Keller, who heads up a "Save Main Road" organization.
"I'm really concerned about businesses on Main Street and parking," said Councilman George Gabrielsen, who said the project would help add parking to Jamesport. The project would also increase the tax base and jobs, he said.
Stating that he did not want another strip mall, Councilman James Wooten said a mixed use plan would have less of an impact that all retail. "I don't think it's out of character for Jamesport," he said. "This is trying to create something palatable and sustainable.
The board voted in favor after additional conditions were added to the resolutions, including provisions to ensure that no site plan would be approved without the offer of a cross access easement agreement to properties to the east of the development; that an individual bistro would not exceed 2,000 square feet; and that individual bistros would provide food service with a waitstaff -- no fast food establishments.
The Riverhead Town Hall meeting room was filled to capacity as dozens of residents crowded inside during Tuesday's town board meeting to protest a resolution for a special exception that would green light a mixed use development in Jamesport.
A group of residents opposed to the plan to develop land on Main Road in Jamesport organized to "occupy" Riverhead Town Hall on Tuesday.
And occupy they did, as residents lined the room, waiting for hours for their turn to speak out in opposition.
A group called "" has galvanized in recent months to protest the proposed Jamesport Village Mall project, a 42,000 square foot plan that includes plans for bistros, retail establishments and medical offices that has sparked fierce controversy for years.
The Riverhead Town Board was met with fierce opposition as they convened on Tuesday to consider a resolution to grant special permits for the project.
"Save Main Road" is a group of concerned citizens that organized to help preserve land and community character on a stretch of Route 25 from County Road 105 east to Laurel, to the Southold Town Line.
Two special permit applications were submitted by Jul-Bet Enterprises in 2007 for the project, which would be sited across the street from Cliff's Elbow Room.
Special permits are necessary because current rural corridor zoning only allows for certain uses.
Concerns expressed by residents who spoke passionately involved increased density, a change in community character, and fears over the spike in traffic new development would bring to Jamesport, traffic that might keep visitors in Greenport or Southold, spending much sought after tourism dollars.
"On Saturdays and Sundays, the traffic outside my house moves at a snail's pace and is constant between 3 and 6 pm," said Jamesport resident Pamela Boyle, who also questioned how the plan would impact Jamesport's historic character. "If you put a Pizza Hut in it certainly doesn't seem to be very historic to me," she said.
Nancy Gilbert, who also lives Jamesport, urged the board to wait before voting. "I urge you to slow the process down, so there is time for dialogue," she said.
Georgette Keller, of the "Save Main Road" group, said the project would change the hamlet's character. "The parking issue needs to be resolved special permits are issued," she said. She said business owners in the area are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation and, as a teacher, compared it to bullying.
She asked that the name of the project be changed, that architectural standards be upheld, that research be done on what the average square footage for a 50 seat eatery would be, and that the topography of the land not be changed. "It's part of our history that needs to be preserved, not bulldozed," she said, asking the board to wait before voting.
Matt Kar, who lives on Main Road in Jamesport and owns three pieces of commercial property said he respects property rights - but not special permits. "He should only get what he's entitled to -- nothing special," he said.
Audience members applauded Larry Simms of South Jamesport, who has helped Keller organize a petition in opposition to the project signed by 225 residents so far. He demanded to know why residents hadn't been made aware that the board had voted to accept the final environmental impact statement until it was a done deal in December.
"There are no advantages to the special permit uses, and that should be enough," Simms said.
He added that the final environmental impact statement: "It's a load of crap," he said, reading sections of the document. The plan, he said, would result in more vacant commercial space and said development should be directed toward downtown Riverhead.
'I'm not considering office space for Main Street," Walter said. "That's a dead issue We're not going to fix Main Street by putting gobs of professional offices in there."
Resident Richard Wines added he was surprised to learn that the FEIS had been adopted without public input.
"That was not secretive," Walter said. "Don't allude that this was kept under wraps."
Wines also urged that downtown Riverhead be spotlighted for development, not Main Road in Jamesport.
Some residents said allowing a special permit would open the flood gates for similar requests.
According to town code, Walter said, there are special permits for certain uses, as long as the developer meets the requirements. Zoning is not being changed, Walter said.
"You have an opportunity to be at a crossroads," said Mary Ann Johnston, president of the Manor Park Civic Association. Johnston, who lives in Manorville, near the Riverhead border, said, "You can avoid sprawl. The residents of the town of Riverhead have the right to remain rural. Your environment is your economy. You forget that at your peril."
Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, said the disadvantages of the project far outweigh the advantages. "It stinks, to put it mildly," he said.
Questions linger regarding how the zoning for the parcel was designated originally, said South Jamesport resident Robert Keller. "The very idea of building a mini Tanger in Jamesport is ludicrous at best," he said.
Walter said zoning was not being changed, that it was in accordance with the master plan, and that Jamesport board members including former Supervisor Phil Cardinale, Rose Sanders and Barbara Blass voted for the measure in 1987. "The only issue before us, and it's very narrowly focused, is whether a special permit should be issued for bistros and professional offices, because as of right they can have retail," he said.
"I think the mixed use is a folly," said Elaine McDuffee, who asked the board if they'd rather live next to a retail store that closed at 6pm or a bistro or club that closed at 1 or 2 am. "I would live near neither," he said.
Board member John Dunleavy assured residents the plan would not be a strip mall.
Some residents felt a plan with only retail should be considered. Others were concerened that fast food restaurants could pop up with the new plan.
Duffy's Deli owner Harold "Duffy" Griffiths, questioned how the plan would help existing businesses and said a cross access easement would be critical.
"This is a broken process," said Jennifer Hartnagel of the Group of the East End, who said no vote should be taken until all the information had been vetted.
In response to concerns about traffic, Rick Hanley discussed a traffic impact study that had been done.
Wooten said public input had helped to shape the conditions that were voted upon and would benefit the public. "I appreciate the passion," he said of residents. "If this developer is going to build anything I want it to be unobtrusive. The alternative would be too much to bear."
Councilman John Dunleavy said his focus was on tax base.
One resident blasted the board and said the project was "mob" related and they voted out of fear.
Dunleavy said he was not afraid of anything.